Working Papers


The Gift of Gridlock: Divided Government, Bureaucratic Autonomy, and the Politics of Rulemaking in the American States (with Robert J. McGrath).

Abstract: Scholars of American politics debate the consequences of polarized and divided government on lawmaking, but have largely neglected the impact of institutional conflict on the policy outputs of the bureaucracy. We argue that gridlock empowers bureaucrats, as conflict in lawmaking creates opportunities and demands for civil servants to pursue policy goals through rulemaking. To explore these dynamics, we draw upon a comprehensive dataset of over 150,000 proposed and adopted rules issued by U.S. state agencies from 1994 through 2009, allowing us to model aggregate and policy-specific changes in rulemaking over time. Our focus on the states contributes to a fuller understanding of the way governments manage policymaking during times of political conflict, as we find that the volume of state rulemaking increases during divided government. Our research also highlights the importance of oversight powers, as rulemaking increases most sharply in states where legislatures lack the ability to veto regulations.

Agenda Alternatives in the American States (with Julianna Pacheco) .

Abstract: This article investigates the specification of policy alternatives in state level agenda setting. Drawing on an original dataset classifying state level tobacco and vaccine related bill introductions from 1990-2010, we explore factors that determine the generation of state-level public health policy alternatives. We specifically evaluate how the diversity of state interest group populations, the professionalism of state governments, and the ideological polarization of legislatures influence the range of policy alternatives state governments consider in response to emerging public health problems. We find that gridlock caused by ideological polarization and interest group competition has a chilling effect on the specification of policy alternatives, as both interest group diversity and legislative polarization are associated with a decrease in the diversity of laws considered in a state legislative session. Conversely, we find that states with professional legislatures consider a more diverse set of policy alternatives than their peers.

Supplemental Text

Electoral Competition, Party Control, and the Diffusion of Innovations

Abstract: This paper evaluates how electoral and institutional party competition influences the diffusion of innovations. It specifically explores whether rising levels of electoral competition have lead Republican and Democratic controlled legislatures to enact divergent policy innovations, as increasing competition leads representatives to support policy that mobilizes core partisans. I draw upon a large data set of American state criminal justice policy innovations to model how electoral incentives and party control shape the probability of tough on crime, civil rights, and alternative sentencing policy adoption over time. I find strong support for the conditional party/competition hypothesis, providing new perspective on the importance of electoral and institutional competition on the development and diffusion of innovations.

Where there’s Smoke there’s Vapor? Policy Winnowing and the Diffusion of Electronic Cigarette Legislation in the American States. (with Misty Knight-Finley).

Abstract: We argue that the diffusion of innovations is the outcome of a broader winnowing process of potential state policy alternatives. To explore these dynamics, we collect a comprehensive data-set of U.S. state-level law-making related to electronic cigarettes from 2006 through 2015, allowing us to measure the full array of policy alternatives introduced, considered, and enacted by state governments in response to a new policy problem. We find that that early adopting “leader” states consider a broader array of policy alternatives prior to adoption, as state policy-makers conduct a fuller solution search in order to define problems and generate a range of feasible policy solutions. Later adopting “laggard” state benefit from this initial information processing, and subsequently consider a far narrower and more focused set of policy alternatives prior to policy adoption. This casts light on the efficiency of policy-making in federalism, as it reveals that state governments can rely on the agenda-setting and policy-winnowing activity of their peers to simplify lawmaking.